Moving Mountains

This past weekend has been fraught with dreams in which I was unable to control anything around me.  Having a background in psychology and an interest in dream interpretation, I took that to mean that I was internalizing a bunch of stress because I was locked out of my TodaysMeet account that I created using my GAFE credentials.  I previously posted my frustrations because this is not the first time that I have had to go WAY of out my way to get access to a technology tool that in all reality should be open.
And just to make things clear.  TodaysMeet was not blocked by my district’s firewall.  But I was unable to get the password reset email from TodaysMeet because we are unable to receive emails from outside of our domain.  
Because of my panicked emails which I sent to the Powers-that-Be, I started my day with a phone call from our Director of Technology who then spoke with “someone” in IS.  And within five minutes (I’m not exaggerating)…someone from IS called my room.  They wanted to see what was happening on my end.  
It was interesting to watch them work through all of the possible solutions to rectify my problem (we were screen-sharing).  But I know a little about technology, so I tried to troubleshoot things on my end before I sent the email last Friday.  I even troubleshooted this weekend on my home computer using my own network thinking that it was a district firewall issue.
And it was.  
It turns out that the password email I sent last Friday, prompted TodaysMeet to not accept my username/password combination even though I knew it was the right one.  The problem was that my GAFE account could not receive the password reset email from TodaysMeet because they are outside of our domain.
I asked if IS could somehow for one hour lift the ban on outside entities sending to my GAFE account so that I could see if TodaysMeet actually sent me a password reset email. I was told (by two very patient IS techs) that that kind of request needed to go up much higher than them.  They mentioned something about the Assistant Director of IT or even our Cabinet (we’re talking all of the Assistant Supts AND the Superintendent) being the only ones who could approve that kind of request.  
Geesh.  Things were getting serious.
I told the two IS techs that this was an expedited request because I needed the transcripts from my TodaysMeet classes for my CUE presentation.  I told them that it didn’t really matter if I could use my GAFE account ever again with TodaysMeet…I just needed the transcripts.  
They said they would try their best.
About 15 minutes later, my phone rang again.  It was the two techies from IS.  They asked me to check my GAFE email.  
My latest email was from TodaysMeet with a link to reset my password.
What?!?!
So, I immediately reset my password and logged in to my TodaysMeet account.  I finally had access to my transcripts.  I.mean.seriously.  Someone moved mountains for me.  And believe me when I say that I’m so very grateful.  
I have so many people to thank…starting with the two techies in IS (D+G), my principal, the Director of Technology, the Assistant Superintendent, and whomever gave the GREEN LIGHT to let an outside entity send an email to my GAFE account.  
All is right with the world again.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to sleep much better tonight. 

Diggin’ Diigo

I was introduced to Diigo during the last year of my master’s program.  We were working around the notion of curating resources to share with our PLN.  We researched social bookmarking sites and chose the one which we felt most comfortable using.  I chose Diigo.

What I like about Diigo is that I can easily bookmark sites for later review.  It works much better than the reading list on Safari (sorry Apple, you know how much I love you)….but with Diigo I had access to all bookmarks, notations, etc. on all of my devices.

The best part?  I was able to add a bookmarklet to my iOS devices so that I could continue bookmarking to my heart’s content.  You know how that is…you go online looking for one particular thing and then two hours later you realize that you fell down a rabbit’s hole.  But I don’t consider the journey a loss…after all, that’s why I really like Diigo…I can bookmark sites, leave notations, and move on.

I’ve introduced Diigo to colleagues in my district.  I started with my department members, thinking that this would be an easy way to share websites.  But it never took off.  Well, it never took off for them.  I still bookmark sites, but whether they look at it or not I don’t know.

Then at my COE we decided to use Diigo as part of our roll-out of technology tools that supports Common Core.  We started a Diigo group and all teachers who came through our workshops enrolled in our Diigo group.  But after all of that work…it didn’t quite take off either.  Bummer.

But I wasn’t about to give up.  The daily updates I receive from Diigo gives me food for thought.  I like that other tech-minded educators are perusing and bookmarking sites.  Do I consider the Diigo community as part of my PLN?  Heck yeah!

So my next step was to introduce Diigo to colleagues in my district.  For the past couple of years, I have been asked to host a variety of technology PD.  Because of the push for Common Core, I made sure that my workshops featured technology tools that support reading, writing, and digital literacy skills.  Enter Diigo.

I pushed Diigo as a means to not only curate resources, but also as a tool where students could annotate sources.  In addition, I pushed Diigo as a way to build a PLN for teachers in my district.  And it kills me to say that even with a workshop focusing on curating and annotating resources that Diigo still didn’t take off.

Why?

I don’t know.

Whatever the case, I’m not about to give up on a tool that allows users to curate and collaborate on resources.  I’m.just.not.

Next step.

I created a Diigo group for my 7th graders last semester.  Actually I created the group a couple of years ago, but never got around to using it with my students (I suffer from the too many technology tools not enough time syndrome).

I bookmarked primary and secondary sources for them to use for our Japan Unit.  I told students that they could use those sources when working on their collaborative writing assignments in GoogleDocs.  I had about seven students sign up.  And though that doesn’t sound like a lot.  That was seven more students than before.  I told students that this is a tool that they can use beyond our class.  I told them that this type of tool is going to come in very handy as they move into high school and college when curating resources is very important.

Enter new semester of students.

I decided that this time I would post an invite to our Diigo group in Edmodo and invite students to join our group with the intent that this would help them when it came time to do the Level 4 (analysis) and Level 5 (synthesis/evaluation) writing pieces.  This year, my department (both World and US history teachers) have decided to work on collaborative writing assignments with our students.  We’ve been having them use primary and secondary sources long before the words Common Core were uttered.  However, now that we’re a GAFE district…the power of collaborative learning and writing has opened new doors for us.  Instead of having students write in isolation, we’re having our students write collaboratively.  It not only cuts down on the amount of essays that we have to grade, but it also mimics the type of writing that historians do today.  For who writes in isolation?  Well, I’m sure there are plenty who do so.  But all of the writing that I’ve done for publication has been done collaboratively.  We leave comments for each other, sometimes we’ll open a chat window in GDocs…but more importantly, we’re able to work when it’s most convenient for us.  Because of this experience, I decided that we needed to provide our students with this same type of experience and skill-set.

Where does Diigo fit in?  I’m hoping that I can get this semester’s set of students to use Diigo to not only bookmark relevant resources, but also to collaborate by leaving annotations for each other.  There will definitely be a learning curve for me because I’ve never done this before with my students, but this is something that has definitely been marinating in the back of my mind.  Wish us luck!

EdPuzzle is No Puzzle to Use

On Friday, I introduced my students to a new technology tool:  EdPuzzle.  It was first introduced to me several weeks ago at a Blended Learning workgroup.  Before EdPuzzle, I was keen on using Videonot.es which syncs to Drive, but since Videonot.es only allows the use of YouTube (which is blocked by my district)…the thought of annotating videos seemed out of my reach.

Not so any more.

EdPuzzle is very easy to use.  It’s easy for students to sign-up and it’s overall use is intuitive.  I loved that my students were able to rewatch video clips before answering either an open-ended or multiple choice question.  The notion of rewatching video clips came in especially handy since the narrator of the clip I chose was British.  It didn’t occur to me that my students would struggle with his accent until I started receiving answers spelled phonetically (e.g. Sway as opposed to Sui…Tong as opposed to Tang).

EdPuzzle automatically grades multiple choice questions and gives students their scores which is actually misleading because the open-ended questions were not graded yet.  But that’s my only gripe about this awesome tool.

Grading the open-ended questions was a breeze because EdPuzzle gives you the option to grade all of the open-ended questions in one fell swoop.  All I had to do was click the red X or the green Check for each student answer.  In fact, I had all of the open-ended questions graded before my students left class.  Easy.

Because I teach history, I use a variety of primary and secondary sources:  print, picture, video, and music.  EdPuzzle is an easy way to have students take a step back when watching a video to really try to understand not only the contents presented, but taking a look at bias as well as using the video to corroborate other resources.

I love the fact that technology tools are constantly evolving to make learning more fun and meaningful for students.  It’s even better when the technology tool is designed for easy use by teachers as well.  EdPuzzle does not disappoint.

Learning is an Adventure!

So Year 2 with 1:1 iPads has officially begun.  It’s been a rough start.  I can’t update my iPads…in fact, five of my iPads are no longer working because those were the ones I was trying to update.  But luckily enough for me, my principal let me “borrow” five iPads from another cart…which means that all of my students have their own iPad to use in class, every.single.day.  =)

The first learning tool I shared with my students is Edmodo.  They are slowly learning how Edmodo can be used to connect with peers in other classes, how Edmodo can help with their homework questions, and how Edmodo is really just a lot of fun.  =)

The second learning tool I shared with my students is Popplet.  Today they were introduced to the basic features of Popplet.  As usual, I let them simply have time “to play”…to get to know the app…to find out things on their own.  And do you know the craziest thing?  One of my students discovered that if you took a picture (in his case, a selfie), uploaded it to Popplet, that you could actually draw on yourself.  And if you know anything about middle-schoolers, they’ll take any and every opportunity to take a selfie and then draw on themselves.  It’s the weirdest phenomena, but one of the reasons why I love teaching middle school.

Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow when my kiddoes will take what they learned about identifying human and physical characteristics of Arabia and put that learning on a Popplet.  To add a layer of depth, my students will also have to include textual evidence.  We are going full speed ahead: technology + creativity + writing literacy.  It’s going to be a great year!

For the Flippin’ Doodler in All of Us

At the Think.Create.Share conference at CSUF in May I was introduced to Paper 53.  As a prolific doodler, this app was made for me. I love doing picture notes with my students but it’s hard to wait for them to finish their drawings. After all there’s only so many instructional minutes within a traditional class period. But with great apps like Educreations & Paper 53, I can record a flipped lesson which lets me doodle to my heart’s content but without the waiting. And then our class time can be better utilized for something more interactive. 
My only wish is that Paper 53’s multiple writing tools were free as well. But since I work at a public school, I’ll gladly take free apps. =) Free = good.